Alex Ovechkin finishes off a breakaway to score his first of two goals past Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. (Trevor Hagan/Associated Press)

Washington Capitals 5, Winnipeg Jets 4: Martin Erat wins it for Caps in shootout

The Washington Capitals arrived here seeking to continue cleaning up their defensive play and shoring up their puck management. Instead, Tuesday night’s game offered a case study in what not to do for both.

Even with the plague of turnovers, defensive breakdowns, odd-man rushes against and three squandered one-goal leads, the Capitals overcame their own sloppiness to capture a 5-4 shootout win against the Winnipeg Jets.

Martin Erat scored the decisive goal in the sixth round of the shootout to give the Capitals their first set of consecutive victories this season and put a winning sheen on an error-riddled game.

“We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times when we had leads, especially in the second period,” Coach Adam Oates said. “But obviously [the Jets] carried the play.”

Alex Ovechkin recorded two goals, his eighth and ninth, while Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer also scored to help counter the chances Washington gave up. But it was goaltender Braden Holtby who had the toughest task of the evening, facing a career-high 47 shots and stopping 43, also a career-best mark, before making two saves and forcing a third shot wide in the shootout.

The teams combined on a six-goal second period, by the end of which the Capitals had allowed 30 shots, including many dangerous chances. The defensive struggles were so apparent that Holtby felt the need to speak up in the dressing room during intermission.

“Everyone here wants to win, and I don’t think we were putting in an effort to win a game after the second,” Holtby said. “I thought we did a much better job in the third. The shootout spoke for itself, and our guys bailed me out so it goes both ways. It’s not a pretty win, but you need those along the way to give you confidence that you can win even when you don’t have your ‘A’ game.”

Against a Winnipeg squad hungry to close out its six-game homestand with a win, the Capitals knew to prepare for an aggressive foe. The Jets dominated the pace in the early going with an abundance of odd-man rushes and fast breaks.

Winnipeg faced no obstacles crossing the offensive blueline and frequently caught the Capitals off guard in the neutral zone or their own end with sudden bursts of speed. Fortunately for the visitors, Winnipeg sabotaged its own best looks in the first with shots that went wide or passes that were off the mark. But that trend wouldn’t last.

“I felt bad for Holtsy,” Karl Alzner said. “He had to make some massive saves. It probably should have been 7-4, 8-4 for them. There was a couple things we do not like to see that we’re not happy with, but we are happy we battled enough to get a win.”

Even with the Jets’ start, it was Washington that struck first thanks to a strong shift from the third line.

John Erskine, back in the lineup after missing four games with an upper-body injury, fired a shot on net while Joel Ward occupied two Jets in front. The puck popped out from the chaos at the top of the crease allowing Grabovski to gain possession, skate past the pileup and fire a backhander into an empty cage for a 1-0 lead with 3:11 gone in the second period. It was his first goal since the season opener.

The Capitals’ advantage only offered more fuel for Winnipeg. When big defenseman Dustin Byfuglien was whistled for roughing to put Washington on the power play, the Jets rendered the unit not only ineffective but unorganized. First Evander Kane sprung free on a shorthanded breakaway, but Holtby managed to cut down the angle and force his shot to miss the target.

Less than 30 seconds later, an uncharacteristic turnover by Nicklas Backstrom and then a failed attempt to regain possession in the neutral zone by Green sent the Jets on a shorthanded 2-on-1. Holtby stopped the initial shot by Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd, but when the rebound caromed out to the left neither the goaltender nor Mike Green, the lone man back (who was benched late in the game for poor play), could react before Bryan Little shot to make it 1-1 at 7:21 of the second.

“Maybe we’ve been going at such a good clip we got a little casual with it,” Oates said. “The urgency wasn’t there. When we had a 1-0 lead I thought for sure here’s a really good chance to take control of the game, and we end up giving them basically two goals out of it.”

The notoriously loud crowd at MTS Centre would erupt 70 seconds later when a point shot by Jets defenseman Grant Clitsome found its way past Holtby, who was screened by Byfuglien and Alzner, for a 2-1 lead.

The Capitals eventually managed to manufacture a few odd-man rushes of their own. An outlet pass by Marcus Johansson allowed Ovechkin to sneak past Winnipeg’s defense for a breakaway with just over four minutes remaining in the second. A deke sent Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (28 saves) tumbling to the ice, and Ovechkin backhanded the puck past him to even the score at 2.

Ovechkin recorded his second with 1:58 remaining to put Washington ahead, 3-2, with a shot immediately off a face-off win by Johansson in the left circle. The Capitals couldn’t build on that edge, though, as Blake Wheeler chipped the puck up over Holtby to knot the score again, 3-3, with 38.8 seconds to go in the period.

In the third, Washington established a lead for a third time only to see it slip away again. Backstrom made a sublime move to pull the puck around Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom and dish it across the slot to Brouwer, who had the relatively easy job of finishing the play. Brouwer’s shot put the Capitals ahead, 4-3, with 4:56 gone in the third. A little more than two minutes later, though, chaos in Washington’s zone led to Little recording his second goal of the night to tie the game 4-4 and ultimately push the helter-skelter session into overtime and a shootout.

“We’ll take the two points,” Brouwer said, “But we really don’t want to take anything else out of it.”